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Being Dialectical About Dialectics or Finding Courage Through Criticism

My friend Nick Manley posted this on Facebook:

I still think there is nothing wrong with being cowardly or if there is: you can remind yourself that nobody's perfect or without "sin", but I do really wonder what I could do for left-wing market anarchism were I more courageous and fearless on taking action on behalf of it.
If Chris Matthew Sciabarra could endure what he did in terms of both scholarly and personal critiques to bring the world the notion of dialectical methodology being useful for free market libertarians: why can't I? It isn't like I haven't tested the potentially hostile waters before and came out still alive so to speak.
I didn't get involved in libertarian anarchism to be part of some exclusive social club or cult. I got involved to change the world for the better.

I replied on Facebook, and wanted to share my reply with Notablog readers; I wrote:

Nick Manley, my friend, it saddens me that you put yourself through so much self-torture, worrying about what others might say or think about what you say or think (though with all due respect, you're not inside their minds, and you never really know what other people may be thinking or why they say the things they do).

Understand this: I went through about 35-40 years of criticisms from left and right over "dialectical libertarianism"... but I didn't tie my self-concept to whether I was right or wrong. Instead, I answered the criticisms to the best of my ability, did more reading, and by the time I got to the final book of my trilogy, I tried to address every criticism that was raised with regard to the concept of dialectics that I had endorsed ("the art of context-keeping") and the need to tie that method to the defense of a free society.

Did I succeed? I have no clue. I only know that I welcomed the criticism, even those criticisms that were, for lack of a better phrase, completely idiotic---because they attempted to tie me to certain notions of dialectical method that I had clearly not endorsed. So I spent half of Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism literally re-writing and reconstructing the history of dialectics as a concept---in the first three chapters, followed by a whole chapter that developed a definition of dialectics and to unpacking that definition and its implications for social inquiry.

And guess what? I was still criticized, and will be criticized long after I am gone, despite hundreds of footnotes and citations to this or that source. It comes with the territory. I'm still learning. I practically live for the dialogue (after all, the dialectical method was born, in its first manifestations, from the very notion of dialogue---looking at things from different perspectives and on different levels of generality, and not reifying a single one-sided perspective as if it were the whole).

But one really good thing happened. After nearly four decades of being the voice of one crying in the wilderness (and we all know what happened to the last guy who had that voice of one crying in the wilderness), I have now coedited with two colleagues (Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins) a forthcoming volume (The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom) with contributions from 19 scholars (including myself) who are not afraid to utter the words "dialectics" and "liberty" in the same sentence.

But guess what? I don't even agree with what every scholar in the book has done with the notion of a 'dialectical libertarianism'---and I suspect that the contributors to the volume would disagree with one another on the various dialectical applications that each of them has made in their respective essays. But this is a good thing. It shows that the very notion of a dialectical libertarianism includes vigorous differences even among those who adhere to its core premises, which makes it a living research program for future scholarship, going in directions that none of us might be able to predict, given that it will be applied in various contexts and innumerable ways as circumstances change over time.

Welcome the differences! Work on not tying your self-worth to a cause, but on developing your self-worth as an unfolding project of its own. It may or may not include that cause, but be open to the possibility that that cause itself will also unfold and evolve over time.

I know, I know, all this is easier said than done. There will be days that you'll read a criticism of your work in a book or on social media and want to pick up your laptop and throw it against a wall. The real courage that you need to develop is the courage to accept your self-doubt, the courage to question yourself, and the courage to accept the fact that you are growing and will never stop expanding the boundaries of your knowledge. And in order to do that, you need critics---some will be friendly, some will be hostile; some will say worthwhile things, some won't. But none of it is a reflection of who you are, and to me, you've been a kind, supportive, gentle soul who doesn't give himself enough credit for what he knows already.

Mucho love from Brooklyn. Hang in there.